This paper is a modest attempt to capture the dynamics of the Catholic community in Limasawa, Southern Leyte, focusing on its history, social relations and outside influences, as a contribution to the writing of “history from below," using oral accounts. This town-island is chosen because centuries after the first mass was celebrated on March 31, 1521, it is ironic and sad to note that no adequate historical material on the evolution of the Catholic religion is available in the area.
Oral accounts by the Roman Catholic laity, supplemented with related written documents, reveal that the island's history revolved much around significant religious events: the introduction of Roman Catholicism by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521; the coming of the Spanish missionaries responsible for building the stone church after Legaspi's successful colonization of the archipelago in 1565; the setbacks of Roman Catholicism in the island due to the Revolution and church schism in 1898, resulting in the absence of priests until 1958; the rebuilding of the church by establishing a mission from 1958 to 1992 in response to the active and effective conversion efforts of other religious groups such as the Philippine Independent Church (PIC) and others; the role of a woman's group, the Legion of Mary, in church rebuilding; and the contemporary development of the church of Limasawa from a chaplaincy to a parish. It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that the most potent Catholic influence at work in the island is the observance of fiestas and festivals throughout the year, one of which is the Sinugdan festival every 31st of March to celebrate the birth of Christianity.
The accounts of Catholics and non-Catholics alike reveal that despite differences in religious views, harmonious relationship still prevails, although doctrinal differences remain a dividing force. However, the culture of tolerance is very evident as in the ecumenical activities being held and observed. The small size of the island tends to create closer ties among islanders and is shown in the proportion of the mixed religious affiliations found in many households.